Opinion: Caribbean Premier League a worthy sidekick to the IPL

Blog Opinion

An Indian Premier League lite, of sorts, the Caribbean Premier League promotes itself as the biggest party in sport – and cannot be accused of false advertising, writes Nick Sadleir.

The Caribbean Premier League promotes itself as the biggest party in sport and it cannot be accused of false advertising.

The region long ago made a name for itself as the ultimate destination for the holiday-making cricket fan but the demise in quality of the West Indies team has meant that cricket tourists have found more fun drinking rum on the beach than getting sunburnt languishing in rows of empty seats in cricket grounds.

But it is not so in the CPL where packed stadiums provide a feast of Caribbean delectation for the senses.

The West Indies side has dropped so low in the Test rankings that they wallow in eighth position, some distance behind New Zealand and not that far ahead of Bangladesh. I covered Tests in Jamaica and Trinidad in June and in a series that the Windies lost to the Black Caps and there was hardly a soul in the stands.

Fortunately the CPL couldn't have been more different as it has wonderfully revived interest in the Calypso game.

Over 250,000 fans went through the turnstiles during 2013's inaugural CPL and the English company that owns the tournament in a deal that excludes the often disorganised WICB from the running of it, were satisfied that they had a strong regional brand but realised that steps needed to be taken if they were to captivate a global cricketing audience, most of whom are in a time zone some six or 10 hours ahead in the UK and India.

The solution was to start many of the games at 11am and 1pm local time, so that they would be played at convenient times for viewers in countries far to the east of the Americas. Concentrating the games around weekends and public holidays also ensured that crowds were still healthy.

Bizarrely the behind the scenes decision-making seems to be done by Irishmen and the CEO of the league, Damien O'Donahoe, sure seems to know what he is doing. Digicel, the largest mobile phone network in the region, are partners of the CPL and their largely Irish staff seems well qualified in aiding the party liaison.

Also a broadcast partnership with IMG, the English sports marketing company that put the IPL on the map, is likely to reap untold benefits as the league targets over 300 million tv-watching homes.

Broadcast partners were secured for the UK, India and the US so that every game would be shown live, which was not the case last year. In the UK games were broadcast on BT Sport, a free to air channel available to anyone with a television made in the last decade or so. Some big imported names, like Kevin Pietersen of the St Lucia Zouks, were signed up along with the likes of local crowd-pullers like Chris Gayle and so the party began.

30 matches were contested between six franchises over five weeks in eight countries and most games were played to full houses. Some nifty scheduling meant that a handful of games were played at each host island before moving on to the next one, which meant that a fan (or journalist) could spend a week at the party without needing to race between islands in a region where flight connections are notoriously difficult and expensive.

The schedules is far more civilised than, for example, the IPL where up to 70 matches are played over six weeks. The quality of cricket played was fairly high but the difference between the standard of the top-flight players and the rest was perhaps more pronounced than in other leagues.

Gayle (Jamaica) was helped by some rather mediocre bowling as he hit 24 sixes, the most in the competition, while Sunil Narine (Guyana) and Samuel Badree (Trinidad) were too good for most batsmen as the spinners each finished the tournament with economy rates of under 4.5 runs to the over.

Nonetheless the CPL is a great stage for up and coming talent while at the same time it offers good pocket money for out-of-work guns for hire from faraway lands and what it may lack in technical quality it more than makes up for with entertainment as seriously sexy dancing girls gyrate to grandstand finishes.

Jamaica alone won two matches where they needed a six off the last ball for victory and after the second one at a packed Sabina Park – an empty coliseum during that Test match in June – the majority of the crowd stayed for hours after the final ball. The fact that one can buy full size bottles of 70 percent strong Wray and Nephew overproof rum in the stands does obviously encourage a party.

Tickets were affordable and easy to come by at $5 USD a go and separately run "party stand" tickets for $75 USD that included unlimited top shelf booze and the use of a swimming pool were reasonably popular, especially on days with two games over eight hours.

A problem in West Indies cricket leagues is that it is hard for little islands of 60,000 people like Antigua to compete with the powerhouses of Jamaica (2.7 million) and Trinidad (1.4 million) and Guyana (800,000). This ought to be solved in the franchise system of the CPL by spreading the talent pool around but the problem is that instead of joining the weaker sides like St Lucia and Antigua a player like the world's best T20 bowler, Trinidadian Narine, plays instead for Guyana's Amazon Warriors because the richer team offers a more lucrative contract.

The Limacol (an odd-smelling yellow tonic that one splashes on the body to reduce fever) Caribbean Premier League is sponsored by a Guyanese pharmaceutical company that produces Limacol and also owns the Guyana franchise. The competition resembles a kind of IPL lite, where franchise with a wonderful name like the Jamaica Tallawahs (tallawah means something strength of character in Jamaican slang) is owned by a fast-food-franchise-owning consortium of about 15 Texan Indians who came to many matches and partied as hard as anyone in the stands.

Hollywood actor Gerard Butler is also a part-owner of the Tallawahs while fellow actor Mark Wahlberg is involved with the Barbados Tridents. The Tridents won this year's league as Messrs Duckworth and Lewis had the final say in St Kitts, where Guyana needed 47 runs from four overs with four wickets in hand when the heavens opened on what must be the friendliest little island in the world.

The Tridents secured an automatic place in the final when they turned the table on its head and topped the round robin stage after it looked uncertain that they would even make the top-four with only a few matches to go. St Lucia and Antigua were the laughing stock of the carnival as they won only three of eighteen matches combined (and they played each other a couple of times).

Trinidad would have been disappointed not to make the final given that their players Lendl Simmons (446 runs) and Ravi Rampaul (19 wickets) topped the batting and bowling ladders. Jamaica's Andre Russel was the most destructive batsman of the CPL as he hit 219 runs from 100 balls.

It is unclear whether the CPL is proving to be a financial success or not but there is no doubt that its longevity is safer than the T20